Star Sign: Taurus
Place of Birth: Kosovo
LCL debut: 18/08/19
Previous clubs: Charlton Athletic, Nottingham forest, Notts County, Aston Villa
No one else knows this but...
I have one little finger shorter then the other
Elizabeta Ejupi: “Playing for Albania at the time, I thought it was an opportunity to inspire girls in Albania, as well as all over the world”
Written by Club Journalist Cassie Coombes
Meet Elizabeta Ejupi: the 26-year-old talks about her earliest memories of football, playing internationally, her experiences as a refugee, and the importance of sports psychology.
Elizabeta Ejupi is living her dream. As a full-time professional footballer for London City Lionesses, she is now in the position where she can concentrate her efforts entirely on football. As Ejupi openly reflects, her journey to achieving professional status has posed its own set of challenges along the way.
Often when people reflect on their sporting journey, they pinpoint challenges early on in their careers that inspired them to work harder to achieve their ambitions. For Ejupi, arguably her biggest challenge arose at the very start of her journey; a challenge that forced her and her family to travel over 1,628 miles to London to escape the increasingly volatile situation in her birthplace, Kosovo. The looming cloud of war between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the NATO-backed Kosovo Liberation Army, forced Ejupi and her family to make the journey to ensure their own safety.
Moving to London at the age of three, Ejupi’s transition to life in England can be defined as a period of learning. Learning a new language, a new culture, and about a new home. For Ejupi, the universal language of football not only provided a form of release from the pressures of relocation, but also proved crucial in helping her integrate into her new community.
“I grew up on a council estate and every day we all played outside, and everyone just played football,” she remembers. “Growing up where I grew up there were people from all sorts of backgrounds. It [football] helped me gain respect. If you were good at football you had respect, and no-one cared where you were from. I do think it helps you to make friends.”
After perfecting her skills within the community, it was clear that Ejupi was not just a youngster who enjoyed playing football with her friends, but an individual who had a real talent. What followed next was a remarkable display of fate that highlights the power of role models in inspiring future generations.
“Pauline Cope, the England goalkeeper at the time, came to my primary school and said to me to trial for Charlton,” she remembers.
Cope’s eagle-eye for spotting talent paid off and Ejupi’s trial for Charlton was a success, resulting in her joining the club at the age of thirteen. She continued to play for Charlton throughout their youth system and featured in the London Youth Games, winning Bronze. However, it was the next opportunity that was arguably the most rewarding for Ejupi. At the age of seventeen she gained her first senior call-up to the Albanian national team, making her debut against Macedonia in 2011. The experience of playing international football was a source of pride for the forward and she talks with honesty about the opportunity it gave her to inspire others.
“For me personally playing for Albania at the time, I thought it was an opportunity to inspire girls in Albania, as well as all over the world.
“The passion is just as big there for women’s football. I met people just like me here that played football from a young age and just wanted to pursue it, but maybe didn’t have the opportunities that I had.”
After making her debut for Albania, Ejupi soon moved onto another important stage in her journey - studying at the University of Nottingham. While at University, Ejupi was given the chance to train with the Notts County first team, a squad with such a myriad of talent that she instantly remembers feeling: “starstruck at the time.” Her eagerness to prove herself and grasp the opportunity was soon dashed by the harsh realities of women’s football that epitomised the precarious nature of the profession at the time.
“In my head I thought I was going to prove myself to get a shot on the pitch and this would be the making of me,” she says. “Then on my birthday we all had to go into the ground, and they told us that the club had gone into administration and it no longer existed. It was such a weird atmosphere.”
Thankfully for Ejupi, as the door on her opportunity at Notts County closed, another one opened, and following University she signed with Aston Villa Ladies. Her move to the Birmingham side was just the beginning of her career in women’s football, but when did she realise football was a viable profession?
“I didn’t think of it as a career until after university. After university I thought to myself: ‘you can’t not do this’. That’s when I thought I had to go and chase it completely.”
After moving back to Charlton Athletic from Aston Villa Ladies ahead of the 2018/19 season, the 26-year-old impressed, scoring thirteen goals, and clinching the Player of the Year award in the process. Following her impressive season, she was approached by London City Lionesses who offered her the opportunity to turn professional. This opportunity marked a seminal moment for Ejupi whose ambitions had been to make it professionally. For women’s football more broadly, it highlighted the move towards greater investment which has made professionalism more achievable for women’s sides. As Ejupi reflects on her career in women’s football so far, she recognises these positive changes within the game since she first started.
“I think the main thing you notice and the main thing that has improved is the standard of facilities and what’s acceptable. In the past you wouldn’t have had access to strength and conditioning, and now it is more of a professional set-up.”
Away from her career in football, Ejupi has other interests and is eager to stress the importance of doing things alongside football and continuing to learn. Having studied psychology at University, sports psychology has become a: “massive passion,” for the 26-year-old. The crossover between sport and psychology is an ever-expanding field which has gained popularity over recent years with teams looking to enhance performance. For Ejupi the importance of sports psychology cannot be underestimated, and it is something which she readily applies to her own game.
“When you stick to your routine, you’re prepared. Then you get used to it and if you don’t do it you feel like you’re not prepared. I love looking into sports psychology and all the different techniques. I do that stuff on the side for fun.
“I think that [psychology] is what makes the difference. You can see it on the pitch. You could be the best player in the world but if your mind is not right and you’re not ready for a game, then you’re not effecting anything.”
With plenty of fixtures remaining in the FA Women’s Championship Ejupi will be hoping she can use her sports psychology and experiences within the women’s game to inspire London City Lionesses in their upcoming matches.